Frankenstein is a famous science fiction novel that reveals many important themes. The author of the literary piece, Mary Shelley, portrays how dangerous human intellect may be and to what consequences the obsession with getting more knowledge can lead. It is a story about science and misery, as well as the dual nature of a human soul. The novel focuses on the achievement of a young scientist, Victor Frankenstein, who is obsessed with a desire to make progress in science. Once the main character has created a new life, he transforms from an ambitious doctor into a cruel creator, who condemns his creature for sufferings. At the same time, Victor is a representation of the great human reason in the pursuit of the scientific discovery. Compared to the main character, Robert Walton, through whose letters the audience becomes familiar with the scientist’s story, also attempts to obtain more knowledge. Although the seafarer only records all that Victor says, he is an explorer, as well as a seeker of enlightenment and unpossessed knowledge. Therefore, both Victor and Walton are in the pursuit of knowledge, but in their quest to obtain more information the two characters should comprehend the danger of their discoveries.
In her novel, Shelley emphasizes the danger of knowledge, specifically the miseries and devastation it can bring. At the beginning of a story, Victor is captured by the idea to make a big discovery in science. Thus, violating the laws of nature, Victor puts the beginning of his inevitable destruction. Pursuing scientific target, the young scientist works on the creation of a new life heedless of the potential consequences, “With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet” (Shelley 58). Thus, the character does not think about the consequences of his deed, as well as harm he can make to the entire society. The young scientist goes beyond the accepted norms and principles of morality in order to achieve the desired aim. In fact, Victor enjoys the process of discovering the secret of life. While the character’s pursuit of knowledge refers to physiology, surgery, and medicine in attempt to promote progress in these fields, he neglects all the opportunities to use his skills for the benefit of the mankind. Regardless of this fact, Victor tries to do the thing that no person has done before him. Indeed, the obsession of the young doctor with knowledge has a prohibited nature. Therefore, the literary piece contributes to the reader’s understanding of the danger the quest of knowledge can lead to.
At the same time, although Victor violates the norms of morality, he begins to comprehend the dangerous nature of his purpose.
It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn; and whether it was the outward substance of things, or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied me, still my inquiries were directed to the metaphysical, or, in its highest sense, the physical secrets of the world (22).
On the one hand, the character attempts to uncover the secrets of nature unknown to mankind. In this respect, Victor is mainly led by his thirst for knowledge and does not pay attention to the consequences of his deed. On the other hand, the young scientist subconsciously understands that his actions violate a balance in the world. In fact, Victor has a chance to abandon his idea, but the pursuit of knowledge prevails the common sense. The scientist believes that his invention will bring him recognition, but, in fact, it produces only losses, pain, and miseries. Performing a scientific experiment that nobody has done before, Victor dooms himself to the life he would never wish to have. What is more important, Shelley points out that the danger comes not from the science itself, but from Victor’s desire to outdo not only mankind but also God. Thus, the young scientist brought himself in the deadlock.
Compared to the young doctor, Walton also tries to make an investigation that nobody of the researchers has done before. Talking to Victor about his voyage to the North Pole, the character notes that “…with all the favor that warmed me, how gladly I would sacrifice my fortune, my existence, my every hope, to the furtherance of my enterprise” (Shelley 29). The man states that nobody seeks for knowledge that he does. Furthermore, neither man’s life nor his death could be the price for the acquirement of the knowledge he has obtained. These Walton’s words underline his pursuit of knowledge that can be compared to the excitement the young scientist has experienced during the creation of his masterpiece. As a skillful captain of a ship, Walton wishes his trip to bring him fame and recognition. Thus, the two characters have something in common – they both seek for success and accomplishment of their purposes. Moreover, the enthusiasm of Walton is similar to the feelings Victor experienced being obsessed with his scientific discovery. Both Victor and Walton want to exceed previous human investigations performing initially unbelievable deeds. Whereas Victor attempts to play the role of God, his friend wishes to discover the North Pole. The creation of a living being not by the will of God but due to the scientific discovery seems unbelievable, as well as a trip to the land where no person has gone before. Thus, Victor and Walton are united by the one madness – the thirst for knowledge.
Moreover, both Victor and Walton are blinded by their obsession with getting more knowledge that may eventually play an evil joke on them. When Frankenstein talks about his early investigations, he states how he “was engaged, heart in soul, in the pursuit of some discoveries which I hoped to make. None but those who have experienced them can conceive of the enticements of science” (Shelley 51). Once Victor has heard Walton’s enthusiastic exclamations about an expedition to the North Pole, he understands that they both are obsessed with the same idea – to discover the knowledge unavailable to the rest of the world. Having found his soulmate, Walton becomes more and more confident in his strengths. Thus, the two characters have a target in their lives, and, what is more important, they diligently try to achieve it. Moreover, Victor even compares himself to his new friend, but in this case, he does not praise his purpose yet. He says, “You seek for knowledge and wisdom, as I once did; and I ardently hope that the gratification of your wishes may not be a serpent to sting you, as mine has been” (31). Thus, Victor eventually understands how dangerous his pursuit of knowledge has been, and he sincerely wishes Walton not to repeat his mistakes. The young scientist states that his quest for knowledge has brought him only harm and miseries. Thus, the reader can observe the real price of the obsession with knowledge and the consequences it brings.
At the end of the story, the young scientist ultimately acknowledges the danger of his scientific success that resulted in the death of everyone dear to him. In fact, the birth of the monster becomes a starting point of Victor’s misery. Thus, the young scientist eventually has to pay the price for his experiment. Although Victor’s investigation has been successful and he has achieved the aim, after realization how horrible and terrifying the creature is, the doctor abandons it. In fact, the character makes one mistake after another – first, he violates the laws of nature and moral principles by creating a life that should not exist, and then he refuses to take care of it. As a result, the young scientist faces the consequences of his experiment. To punish the main character, the creature deprives him of everyone he loves. Thus, the price for Victor’s experiment is not only danger the society is exposed to but also deaths of his dear people. At the same time, whereas it seems that Victor comprehends this terrible deed, his words prove the opposite, “So much has been done, exclaimed the soul of Frankenstein… I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation” (Shelley 18). Although Victor partly understands how dangerous his obsession with knowledge is, the desire to succeed in his scientific discovery proves to be bigger. Thereby, attempting to learn the secret of nature, the scientist loses everything and everyone he has valued.
Being a witness of Victor’s confession, Walton refuses from his destructive pursuit of knowledge. Similarly to Victor, Walton has high ambitions and desire for accomplishment, but he observes where these wishes can bring a person. While the young doctor loses his fiancee, friend, and his self, Walton also becomes lonely and abandoned in his trip, “I have no one near me, gentle yet courageous, possessed of a cultivated as well as of a capacious mind, whose tastes are like my own, to approve or amend my plans” (Shelley 12). Although the seafarer is led by the desire to make a great discovery, he is alone on his way to it. At the same time, both characters face the fatal consequences of their craving to the knowledge. Thus, for Walton, the experience of the young doctor is a warning against the obsession with a discovery. The genius scientist is a living example of the dangers and miseries that guest of knowledge may bring. In this respect, Victor’s story is very instructive – he has achieved his aim and gained the unreachable knowledge, but the price for that was too high. Walton, as well as the audience, becomes exposed to the moralized story about the man blinded by his desire and punishment that followed his experiment. The negative recollections of the young scientist, specifically murders of his native people, demonstrate how the obsession with knowledge can be destructive. Therefore, Walton receives a good lesson – he learns from Victor’s mistakes.
The leading theme of the novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is the pursuit of knowledge, specifically the obsession of the two male characters with it. The author shows that longings of both men are very dangerous. Victor is led by the extreme desire to succeed in the creation of a new life and makes this experiment his lifework. Nevertheless, the young scientist does not take into consideration the consequences of his creation. Walton also attempts to carry out a dangerous mission in order to achieve the desired aim. Both men are obsessed with getting knowledge, but none of them thinks about the consequences it will bring. Moreover, to achieve their targets, the two characters doom themselves to the loneliness. While Victor can change nothing in his quest for knowledge, he can prevent Walton from repeating his mistakes. Fortunately, the seafarer acknowledges the forbidden nature of his desires. Although the idea of destruction in Shelley’s novel is inevitable, it possesses an important moral lesson on how the pursuit of knowledge can cause damage to society.